The Physician Assistant Life

Scholarships, Grants and Loan Repayment Programs for Physician Assistants

How to Bankroll PA School Without Going BrokeIt goes without saying, PA school is expensive.

PA school is also demanding, which means you will have limited time (if any) to work while attending school.

With the average undergraduate education debt prior to PA school at $36,300 and the average anticipated debt load from PA school at $75,000-$124,000, it is important that you have a rock-solid plan for how you are going to pay for your PA school education.

Funding sources vary and federal loan programs will probably form the foundation of your assistance package, many states also offer financial aid funding.

Additionally, there are specialized scholarships, traineeships, and loan programs available. Remember — apply the resources from scholarships and grants before you accept loans. Then, only accept loans that you need.

Work closely with your financial aid department. They will be able to inform you about special loans and scholarships for which you may be eligible.

Federal and State Resources

  • Numerous loans and grants guaranteed by the federal government are available to qualified students. Visit the website for Federal Student Aid sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.
    • Direct Subsidized Loans are loans made to eligible undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need to help cover the costs of higher education at a college or career school.
    • Direct Unsubsidized Loans are loans made to eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, but in this case, the student does not have to demonstrate financial need to be eligible for the loan.
    • The Federal Perkins Loan Program is a school-based loan program for undergraduates and graduate students with exceptional financial need. Under this program, the school is lender. You must check with your school's financial aid office to see if your school participates in the Federal Perkins Loan Program
    • Federal Stafford Student Loan Program: These loans are offered through your bank, credit union, or other lending institutions. Graduate students may borrow up to $8,500 per year up to a total of $65,000. To qualify for a Stafford loan, you must demonstrate financial need as determined by the CM formula mentioned above. The interest rate varies. These loans are based on need, not creditworthiness. Therefore, no cosigner is necessary.
  • State sources of financial assistance include an agency in each state that guarantees federal student loans. Also, some states offer their own educational assistance programs with loans or grants. Check with your financial aid office to locate the office(s) in your home state.
  • Tax Credits are another option to explore.                                            

Scholarships and Traineeships

  • Americorps is a national network of hundreds of programs throughout the U.S. and is open to U.S. citizens, nationals, or lawful permanent residents aged 17 or older. This program helps pay for education in exchange for a year of service.
  • The Indian Health Service (IHS) scholarship program provides financial assistance for American Indian and Alaskan Native (federally recognized only) students enrolled in health professions and allied health professions programs. The IHS Loan Repayment Program (LRP) was created to support this mission by providing health professionals the financial freedom to fulfill your career goals. The IHS LRP awards up to $20,000 per year for the repayment of your qualified student loans in exchange for an initial two-year service obligation to practice full time at an Indian health program site.
  • The National Health Service Corps Program (NHSC) is a competitive federal program. Students dedicated to practicing primary care in communities of greatest need can compete for educational scholarships. I was a NHSC Scholar and you can read more about that here. They also offer a generous loan repayment program in exchange for 2 years service in a designated healthcare shortage area (see the next section below).
  • The Physician Assistant Foundation offers competitive scholarships for PA students who are currently attending an accredited PA program, are in the professional phase of the program, and are student members of AAPA. Visit the Foundation web pages for a current application or see below.
  • The United States Navy Health Services Collegiate Program is designed to provide financial incentives for college students in designated health care professions while completing baccalaureate degree requirements.
  • The U.S. Army Health Care team, offers a three-year loan repayment program for any PA- C who wants to serve as an Army PA.
  • PAs for Latino Health (PALH), a caucus of the AAPA, offers a $500 scholarship to currently enrolled PA students each year.

Loans, Repayment Programs, and Consolidation Services

  • The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program is available to PAs in primary care or current students who plan to become primary care providers after graduation. You must agree to provide primary care services in a priority health professional shortage area for a minimum of two years.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program: The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer. Physician assistants qualify.
    • IMPORTANT: Loan forgiveness is an option after 10 years of payments, but it may not be an option if you refinance your loan during that period. So make sure you read the fine print!
  • Sallie Mae Tuition Pay Plans provide quality, low-cost, innovative solutions to paying for education. Tuition Pay is an interest-free plan that lets you break down the large lump-sum payments due at the beginning of each semester into easy-to-manage installments.
  • Common Bond: Ever wished your student loans could have a positive effect on society? Common Bond seeks to "reimagine finance based on our belief that business has a responsibility to further social good and promote welfare outside of its immediate customer base." Common Bond is unique in that they bring a 1-for-1 model to education through Social Promise. For every fully funded degree on the CommonBond platform, they fund the education of a student in need for one year through the nonprofit Pencils of Promise. They even fund a trip to Ghana with Pencils of Promise so that borrowers (and employees) can go and meet some of the children who the Social Promise has helped to fund.

Insider's tip: Looking to refinance a loan? Magnify Money is a wonderful website that lets you compare and contrast student loan options.  Just beware that if you have federal loans, refinancing to private loans may result in losing protections like special repayment plans (such as the public loan forgiveness program) that can help you in a time of need. Make sure you can comfortably afford your new payments if you refinance. And take the time to get rates from several providers.

AAPA Constituent Organization Scholarships

  • The Physician Assistant Foundation offers competitive scholarships for PA students who are currently attending an accredited PA program, are in the professional phase of the program, and are student members of AAPA. Visit the Foundation website for a current application.  Here are some of their current offerings. The 38 PA students who were awarded scholarships during the 2014 application cycle are listed here.
    • Bristol-Myers Squibb Endowed Scholarship — four $2,500 awards
    • National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) Endowed Scholarship — six $2,000 awards
    • Procter & Gamble Endowed Scholarship — six $1,000 awards
    • AAPA Rural Health Caucus Scholarship — two $2,000 awards to students from a rural area, who are committed to serving a rural community.
    • Ron Pace Memorial Scholarship — one $1,000 award to Florida-based students who are veterans and in their second year of PA school. Named in memory of Ron Pace, a Florida Academy of Physician Assistants past president and AAPA Outstanding PA of the Year Award recipient, who served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years.
  • Association of Physician Assistants in Oncology offers a $2,500 award for PA students. The award consists of two parts: $500 to help with travel to AAPA's Annual Conference to receive the award and $2,000 (unrestricted). Apply by March 1st.
  • California Academy of Physician Assistants offers three annual student scholarships for student members. Apply online by December 31.
  • Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay Physician Assistant Caucus offers $1,000 grants for two PA students to attend AAPA's Annual Conference to help foster involvement and awareness of the caucus within the AAPA. Apply by January 15.
  • Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants has six annual student leadership scholarships and three scholarships for students who choose to enter the writing competition. Apply online by June 30.
  • Physician Assistant Academy of Vermont offers a scholarship of $1,000 and free attendance at the annual PAAV Winter CME conference for PA students who are residents of Vermont. Apply by June 30.
  • Physician Assistants in Orthopedic Surgery offers one or two $500 scholarships from the Susan Lindahl Memorial Scholarship Fund, established to encourage young PA students to enter the field of orthopedics. Apply by August 15.
  • The Society of Army Physician Assistants honors the memory of Captain Sean P. Grimes, through the Captain Sean P. Grimes Physician Assistant Educational Scholarship Award. Apply by February 1st.
  • The AAPA Veterans Caucus Scholarship seeks to recognize the achievements of an outstanding veteran of one of the seven branches of the Uniformed Services who is currently enrolled in a PA program.

Note: Grants are similar to scholarships, and availability is based on resources and financial need. When you submit your FAFSA form, you will be considered for Pell Grants.

Also, check your place of employment, organizations and place of worship for any grants for which you may be eligible.

Scholarships and Grants Awarded by the AAPA

They are all due January 15, 2015.

  • Student Academy Outstanding Student Society
    • Description: This award recognizes three student societies for their outstanding service to the profession.
    • How to apply: Download the Student Academy Outstanding Student Society Award application
    • Award/Prize: $500 for each of the three top placing programs
    • Additional details: All of these student societies documented their work in the following categories: public education and advocacy of the profession, public service and outreach, promotion of the diversity and professional involvement. Seventy-five percent membership is required to participate in this award.
  • Student Academy Travel Grant Awards
    • Description: A $500 grant for AOR student society representatives and Student Academy selected HOD student delegates or alternates to minimize travel expenses to the annual conference.
    • Eligibility Criteria: HOD students must be one of the selected students; all applicants should be members of AAPA
    • How to apply: Download the Student Academy Travel Grant application
  • Student Academy PA Student Mentor Award
    • Description: This award recognizes a PA who has demonstrated exemplary service to PA students and has furthered the leadership, educational, and professional development of PA students.
    • Eligibility Criteria: none specified
    • How to apply or nominate someone: Download the Student Academy PA Student Mentor Award application
  • Student Academy PAragon Student Award
    • Description: This award honors a PA student who has demonstrated exemplary service as a PA student.
    • Eligibility Criteria: Need at least 5 applicants; student should be a member of AAPA
    • How to apply or nominate someone: Download the Student Academy PAragon Student Award application

If you have any questions about these scholarships and grants, you can contact the Student Academy Staff at the following email address:

Unites States Military Service and Loan Repayment Programs

  • National Guard Healthcare Bonuses and Loans
    • Physician Assistants and Social Workers:
      • $20,000 per year for a three-year contract
      • $15,000 per year for a two-year contract
      • $10,000 per year for a one-year contract
  • National Guard Student Loan Repayment Program
    • Must have 1 or more qualifying and disbursed Title IV federal loans
    • State and private loans are ineligible for repayment
    • PLUS loans are eligible
    • Loans must be listed on the Department of Education National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) aid summary website
    • Must enlist for a minimum 6 year term of service
    • Must enlist for a critical skills (CS) vacancy in the grade of E-4 or below
    • Information:
      • Payments will not exceed $50,000 with annual repayments not to exceed the maximum amount established by law
      • Must enlist into a qualifying position in an MTOE or Medical TDA unit only
      • Must score a minimum of 50 on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT)
  • Navy Clinical Care Provider
    • To qualify for Active Duty employment consideration as a Physician Assistant in the Navy Medical Service Corps, you must meet these basic requirements:
      • Be a U.S. citizen currently practicing in the U.S.
      • Bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university
        Completion of a physician assistant education program approved by the Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation (CAHEA)
      • Certification by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)
      • Be willing to serve a minimum of three years of Active Duty
      • Be between the ages of 18 and 41
      • Be in good physical condition and pass a full medical examination
      • General qualifications may vary depending upon whether you intend to serve Active Duty or Reserve Duty, and whether you are currently serving, have served before or have never served before.

Who Gets the Most Financial Aid?

You might think that the families who receive the most financial aid would be the families with the most need. In fact, this is not necessarily true. The people who receive the most aid are the people who best understand the aid process.

Can I afford Not To Go To PA School?

Can I afford to go to PA school? The question you should be asking is: can I afford not to go to PA school? If your goal is to become a PA, then the answer to this question is easy. The worst thing you can do is shy away from applying because you think you won’t be able to afford it, and then live the rest of your life wondering, What if?

When I applied to the Rutgers Physician Assistant Program and spoke with students at the open house, they explained that if I were to be accepted the program would do its best to ensure I got through financially. They were right.

I may have borrowed a little more than I intended, but the money was available and after an initial setback I ended up with a highly coveted NHSC Scholarship.

As you will soon find out, there are plenty of opportunities for loans, grants, scholarships, etc. It does, however, take a little work on your part. But since you have set your goals and you’re focused, you are prepared for anything.


Bonus: The Today Show recently had a very good program about loan refinancing and avoiding debt. Take a look at the video here and review their 7 ways to stop loans from ruining your life.

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